cruiscin_lan: (Default)
cruiscin_lan ([personal profile] cruiscin_lan) wrote2010-02-17 11:16 pm

Using Polls for Feedback on Fic

EDITED TO ADD: I went back and found the link to the post that made me decide to try this in the first place: I wish that writers left polls at the end of their work by [ profile] gaudinight.

Before I start rambling, allow me to state that nothing I have to say is at all definitive or even remotely scientific. While I pretty much fail at research methods forever, at least I can offer a few reasons why:

  1. I do not always remember to include polls.
  2. My polling options are not always consistent.
  3. My polling options are quite often silly (i.e. remember that time [ profile] metafandom told me I was good-looking?).

Still, while it might not be useful to examine the results I've gotten so far by using feedback polls, it's certainly interesting, and perhaps someone with a better mind for this sort of thing can take the ball and run with it, so to speak.

I. Reasons to use polls.

One reason to use polls is to find out how many people might actually be reading your fic. LJ Stats can give you an idea of how many people clicked the fic, but unless they leave a comment there's really no way of knowing whether they actually read it or whether they backbuttoned without finishing. By using polls, you can presumably get a number of how many people read a particular story, at the very least.

I'm kind of surprised how the poll numbers compare to comment numbers. The best example is probably this story. Out of fifty-five comments, there are twenty-five unique reviews, but as of right now ninety-nine people have responded to the poll. When I checked that same poll a month after it was posted, there were about seventy poll responses, although you'll just have to take my word for that since I forgot to screencap it or something for posterity.

What this may show is that a) most readers are more comfortable responding to a poll than responding via comment and b) people are especially more comfortable responding to a poll when the fic is no longer "new." This would probably require a better investigation in order to come up with more reliable results.

But this leads to the the second reason I started to use polls - many readers are just more comfortable leaving feedback via polls than they are leaving comments. From what I've read and heard, there are many, many, many reasons for this. And, because I love receiving any and all kinds of feedback, I thought that providing polls might make it easier for readers to respond.

I think it's working.

II. Poll options.

In his long-ass book* Everyone Can Write, Peter Elbow describes four different kinds of audience, and three different kinds of response. The map looks a little like this:

Sharing, but no responseResponse, but no criticism or evaluationCriticism or evaluation
Audience with authority, eg., teachers, editors, supervisors, employers
Audience of peers
Audience of allies - readers who particularly care for the writer
Audience of self alone - private writing

The stars simply mark the intersections on the map (because I am not html-savvy enough to recreate the map exactly as it appears in the book). According to Elbow, ideally a writer should be all over the map in terms of audience and response. But while Elbow is thinking in terms of writing in and for the classroom, I would posit that it fits in pretty well with writing fanfiction too, except I'd probably arrange the "audience" column in reverse. While this might not be entirely accurate, I believe most fanfic authors write with themselves as the primary audience. Then comes the audience of allies - friendly betas, flist members - and the audience of peers. I'm not quite sure how the audience with authority fits into this model, because fanfiction is written for primarily entertainment and enjoyment, and not evaluation.

At any rate, more relevant here than the types of audience are the types of responses that we receive on our stories. At the archives and sites I'm familiar with, response is received through comments, hit counts, or private emails, and the community aspect of many social networking sites makes it hard to categorize some types of feedback. For the most part, I would equate concrit with "evaluative feedback," and lump most other responses ("I loved this!/Good job!/Thanks for sharing!") into "nonevaluative feedback."

I think anyone who's posted anything on the internet knows what "sharing, no response" feels like sometimes.

Moving on - I think of these feedback polls as occupying some strange space between the "nonevaluative feedback" and "no response" columns. It requires very little effort on the part of the reader; one of the options I consistently include is "read it" which provides a way of keeping more detailed stats, simply testing out to see who didn't back button right away. The other consistent option I use is "liked it," which is closer to the "nonevaluative feedback" column.

Another option I used to include "review in the comments," which I've started to phase out because personally I think it's redundant most of the time.

A recent addition to the poll has been the option "didn't like it." I added that option first to a fic that dealt with mature themes, because I can understand being intrigued by the story but not liking the execution, or vice versa. Since I started including the "didn't like it option," it's been marked at least twice.

The only problem with "didn't like it"? I don't know why. What exactly didn't they like about the stories? Since it's a response to a poll, there's no dialogue between reader and author as to what issues in the fic might need to be addressed. But while I'm boggled by this response, as a reader I might appreciate the option to be honest without facing the possibility of confrontation via commenting or email.

I also include silly options in polls. The response they get is varied.

All feedback polls I make are check box polls, because a) it allows readers to choose more than one option, in case one doesn't adequately express their response and b) I can make stupid ticky box jokes.

III. Personal observations

Initially I had reservations about using polls, and sometimes I still do. A part of me fears that using them might come across as self-important, or as treating readers as little more than numbers, I'm not sure. Still, I've never gotten a negative response to the polls themselves (just the stories they accompany). In fact, several people have told me that they think they're a good idea, or interesting at least, and now if I forget to post a poll, at least one or two commenters will be quick to point it out.

IV. Questions?

I know I've got 'em.

  • For authors: Would you try using polls to help encourage reader response? Why or why not?
  • For readers: Would you use polls after reading? Why or why not?
  • What improvements would you suggest for those who might want to use polls?
  • What was the most awesome dinosaur ever, as rated by science?
  • Is receiving feedback via poll as satisfactory as receiving feedback in other ways? Why or why not?

    And, hot damn, I'm too used to doing these now.

    [Poll #1526944]

    *Okay, it's not really that long. It's not quite 500 pages and actually if you're interested in writing pedagogy, it's an engaging read. It's just that I barely have enough attention span to finish a sen

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